A proposed township and area development project proposal on the Great Nicobar Island(Galanthea Bay) and Little Nicobar( South Bay and West Bay) is likely to impact turtle and megapode nesting sites and affect coral reefs, even as the Union environment ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) has recommended it for grant of terms of reference (TOR).
- The project involves the development of an international container transhipment terminal (ICTT), greenfield international airport, township and area development and power plant.
- The grant is one of the first steps in the environmental clearance process.
- The EAC called for involving an independent specialised institution such as the National Institute of Ocean Technology, National Centre for Coastal Research, National Institute of Oceanography for the technical aspect of the project. It suggested research institutes such as the Zoological Survey of India and Wildlife Institute of India for ecological assessment of the project related to Island ecosystems, its terrestrial and marine flora and fauna.
- The EAC said an independent study/evaluation for the suitability of the proposed port site with a specific focus on Leatherback turtles, Nicobar Megapode and Dugong should be carried out.
The township is to be developed over 149 sq. km and has to be evaluated for seismic and tsunami hazards, freshwater requirement details (6.5 lakh people are envisaged to finally inhabit the island when the present population is only 8,500; the current total population of the entire island chain is less than 4.5 lakh), and details of the impact on the Giant Leatherback turtle.
Giant Leatherback turtle
Proposals for tourism and port development in the Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) Islands have conservationists worried over the fate of some of the most important nesting populations of the Giant Leatherback turtle in this part of the Indian Ocean.
- The largest of the seven species of sea turtles on the planet and also the most long-ranging.
- Leatherbacks are found in all oceans except the Arctic and the Antarctic.
- Within the Indian Ocean, they nest only in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
- These are listed in Schedule I of India’s Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, according it the highest legal protection.
- The leatherback is the only sea turtle that lacks a bony shell and has a leather-like, flexible carapace.
- Leatherbacks sometimes grow over six feet in length, making them much larger than the average human.
- They could weigh up to one tonne (1000 kg), and they achieve this impressive weight on a diet of jellyfish
Surveys conducted in the A&N Islands over the past three decades have shown that the populations here could be among the most important colonies of the Leatherback globally.
National Marine Turtle Action Plan :
The A&N Islands are prominent in the National Marine Turtle Action Plan released on February 1, 2021, by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The plan notes that “India has identified all its important sea turtle nesting habitats as ‘Important Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Areas’ and included them in the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) – 1”.
South Bay and West Bay on Little Andaman and Galathea on Great Nicobar, along with other nesting beaches in the islands, find a specific mention here as “Important Marine Turtle Habitats in India” and the largest Leatherback nesting grounds in India.
The plan identifies coastal development, including construction of ports, jetties, resorts and industries, as major threats to turtle populations. It also asks for assessments of the environmental impact of marine and coastal development that may affect marine turtle populations and their habitats.
- The Galathea Bay is adjacent to Galathea National Park in Great Nicobar Island.
- It was earlier proposed as a wildlife sanctuary in 1997 for the protection of turtles and was also the site of a long-term monitoring programme.
- The monitoring was stopped after the tsunami devastation of 2004, but it provided the first systematic evidence of numbers and importance of these beaches.